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The Tsimihety are a Malagasy ethnic group located near the north-central coast of Madagascar. Their name means "those who do not cut their hair," in reference to mourning customs associated with the Sakalava royal court. They number around 700,000 in population.
Tsimihety are immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants from Betsimisaraka villages of the east coast. A small autochthonous population, the Vohilava, received Betsimisaraka immigrants who were fleeing from Merina oppression in the early nineteenth century. Before that, the Vohilava had allied with Zafinfotsy Sakalava fleeing from Zafinimena Sakalava coming from the west. Radama I, the Merina king, conquered the Tsimihety in 1823. The Merina were themselves conquered by the French, who colonized Madagascar in 1896. Some Tsimihety rebelled unsuccessfully against the French. Tension between Tsimihety and Merina is never far below the surface, even though Tsimihety avoid all outsiders as far as possible. Philibert Tsiranana, a Tsimihety from near Mandritsara, was the first president of the Malagasy Republic, which gained independence from France in 1960.
Tsimihety society and economy, as in much of Madagascar, is agricultural in focus. The Tsimihety speak a dialect of the Malagasy language, which is a branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language group derived from the Barito languages, spoken in southern Borneo. Their particular dialect has Arabic and French elements as well. The main economic center among the Tsimihety is in Mandritsara.
According to anthropologist David Graeber, the Tsimihety exist almost entirely independently of the contemporary Madagascar nation-state, maintaining their own extremely egalitarian, non-hierarchical society. Their history of autonomy extends all the way back to the Maroansetra dynasty in the sixteenth century, up through French colonial rule and today.
- Bradt, Hilary; Austin, Daniel (2007). Madagascar (9th ed.). Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press Inc. pp. 113–115. ISBN 1-84162-197-8.
- Diagram Group (2013). Encyclopedia of African Peoples. San Francisco, CA: Routledge. ISBN 9781135963415.
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